by Leander Milbrecht
“My own death felt preferable to anyone discovering I was gay,” Dan Palmer said during his outing. The Australian ex-rugby player finally faced a choice: his freedom or his career.
In a column in the Sydney Morning Herald, Palmer, former vice-captain of the rugby team ACT Brumbies, wrote about the agony he had to go through to deal with his sexuality as a professional sportsman.
“I fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again. It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay.”
Very open and unembellished, Palmer talks about his life as an elite gay athlete, about psychological problems, drug abuse and self-hatred. He admits that most nights he cried himself to sleep and regularly sedated himself with a heavy opiod cocktail. In the end, it was the drugs, of all things, that led to a turning point in his life.
He chose freedom over sport
After Palmer took an overdose of painkillers in 2013 and woke up in his own vomit, he confided in a friend for the first time. It changed everything.
“The next morning, I had changed in a way I didn’t anticipate. I hadn’t realised until then, but this was the first time in my life I had truly felt free. Not long after, I decided I needed to stop playing rugby and begin the next chapter of my life.”
Palmer found a new passion: he studied psychology and neuroscience in Canberra. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis on cellular mechanisms of brain function. With his outing, the ex-professional athlete hopes to stimulate discussion and create understanding of what a person goes through in his situation.
Dan Palmer is a neuroscience Honours student using electrophysiology to investigate the cellular mechanisms of #epilepsy. In a past life he was a professional rugby player @BrumbiesRugby @qantaswallabies @FCGrugby, and currently coaches the Brumbies here in Canberra.#WeAreJCSMR pic.twitter.com/GNpFYr0J6Y
— John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU (@JCSMR) April 26, 2018
“It sickens me to know that in the year 2020 there are still people torturing themselves the way I was, both in and out of sport – we need to be better.”
Palmer played a test match in 2012 for the Wallabies, the Australian national rugby team. He was under contract with the New South Wales Waratahs, moving to France in 2013. Then came the turning point: in 2014 he stopped rugby – in favor of his personal freedom and mental health.
How homophobic is rugby?
The English rugby team Harlequins F.C. recently commissioned a study on homophobia, which came to a shocking conclusion regarding the working environment of queer rugby players. Almost half of the male rugby players are reported to have admitted to having recently used homophobic insults. What’s more, the majority of male rugby players (69 percent) said they had heard team mates use insults like “fag” or “dyke” within two weeks.
The study also found that there were large discrepancies between language and attitude, with the majority of players expressing a positive attitude towards queer people. Erik Denison, one of the researchers leading international studies on this topic, said:
“There has been a dramatic improvement in public attitudes towards gay people in general society. Gay males are visible and open about their sexuality in almost every environment. We haven’t seen the same changes in sport. The constant use of homophobic language creates a culture where gay people feel unwelcome.”
Palmer is now the first Australian ex-rugby player to come out as gay – and only the second ex-professional in the world after the Welshman Thomas Gareth. Last month, active British rugby player Levi Davis came out as bisexual. Recently there has been an increased number of outings of active and former professional athletes. Hopefully they will encourage more players to outing and bring about a lasting change.
- rugby-3718779_1280: By Paul Want / Pixabay / CC0
- 1076px-David_Cameron_and_Gareth_Thomas: By ukhomeoffice - Flickr / CC BY 2.0 / wikimedia.org
- Danpalmer: By: John Curtin School of Medical Research / Twitter
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